Editor’s Note: The last lesson in this series is written by David Taft, minister, First Baptist Church, Hermitage.
Focal Passage: II Corinthians 1:2-7
Society acknowledges illness and pain as “real” and needing attention. Doctors identify illness and pain in legitimate terms. Yet one illness still bears the stigma, fear, and ignorance by many in the public, and within the family alike — mental illness. My grandfather suffered for years with depression and others I have known, loved, and served suffered with temporary or long-term bouts of mental illness.
Does God command or expect us to respond to physical and mental illness in Scripture? In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth he describes God’s comforting response to our pain and our response to comfort those who are suffering.
A greeting and blessing (vv. 2-3), “grace and peace,” are found in many of Paul’s letters. Yet, the blessing is made most significant by its source, “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” His grace denotes His undeserved favor toward man. No one is deserving, yet all need the extension and presence of God and His love. Paul adds to his blessing “peace” which is properly used to identify the Lord’s presence in our life. Peace is not the absence of problems, but the inclusion of the Lord, who is with us, even in our trials.
Paul writes in verse four this blessed truth of the Lord “who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (NAS).
The hurting believer knows the comfort of God. He takes the initiative to show compassion toward us.
The word in verse four states “afflictions,” “tribulations,” or “troubles” that notes distress, pressure, and pain, not illness. Throughout this text, terms of pain are repeated. As we read, Paul does not list all the “effects” from pain, but we can infer them as they relate to the emotional and mental anguish resulting from great burdens and pressures.
Sleep deprivation, threats of violence, the haunting memories of war and violence for our nation’s soldiers, notices of employment layoffs, and the like are all known to impact mental and emotional health. There are within our families, communities, and congregations, individuals who are burdened and are not aware of the trauma they suffer.
You can respond by calling upon and coming alongside of them. We, as believers, should respond to mental illnesses with love and discernment.
Remembering God’s example, let us call and come beside our loved ones and neighbors.
An example of effective love toward a man without faith in God and who suffered mental anguish is found in Daniel 4. At the end of his mental plight King Nebuchadnezzar testified of God’s grace and consolation.
In verses 6-7 we see promises to those who are afflicted. Paul encourages the church while exhorting that his afflictions can work toward their comfort. I think of the centurion, who saw the great suffering of our Lord Jesus on the Cross. When Christ died, he testified, “Surely this was the Son of God.”
We can minister more effectively when we tell others how our pain can work toward healing. David wrote in Psalms that the righteous encounter many afflictions.
Could we start promoting to others the advantages of trials as Paul wrote in verse six? Paul offers the benefit of suffering — a steadfast hope in knowing the consolation of God through His people.
Let us take the time to hear God in His Word, pray, and come beside those who are suffering, that we may encourage their faith to endure. Then, all of our praise will go toward the One who is our hope, Christ Jesus!